Charcot’s influence on European literature

Peter J. KOEHLER1 and Ragnar STIEN2
1Department of Neurology, Atrium Medical Centre, Heerlen, The Netherlands; and 2Laboratory of Neuro-urology, Ullevál Hospital, Oslo, Norway

Scientific progress, particularly in medicine, is often reflected in contemporary art and literature. In a previous paper (“About medicine and the arts: Charcot and French literature at the fin-de-siècle” presented at the Annapolis meeting in 1998), the influence of Charcot and the Salpêtrière school on French naturalistic literature and subsequent movements was studied.

For the present paper we extended our scope and studied the influence on European literature. We searched for connections between Charcot, Salpêtrière, hysteria, or hypnosis on one hand and literature from Austria, England, Germany, Netherlands, Russia, and the Scandinavian countries, on the other. In particular authors from the naturalistic movements in the various countries were screened. We categorized the influence in three Levels: 1) direct references to or connections with Charcot; 2) direct or identifiable influence from his work; 3) indirect references or influence from his pupils/work.

At least two periods of influence may be distinguished: A) early [1880-1920] and B) late [1970-present]. A) As expected and partly presented previously, most influences were found in France (Zola, Huysmans, the Daudets, Maupassant, Claretie, Céline, Godard, Proust, Mirbeau, Prévost, Aragon, Breton; mostly Level 1). In addition we found influences on one Austrian (Schnitzler; Level 3), four Dutch (Van Eeden, Couperus, Aletrino, Emants; Level 1, 2 and 3), two English (Stoker and James; Level 1), no German, three Russian (Tolstoj, Kovalevskaya, Tourgenjev; Level 1), two Swedish (Strindberg and Munthe, Level 1 and 3), three Norwegian (Bjørnson, Kinck and Richter Frich, Level 1), and one Danish ( Bang, Level 3) authors. Italian and Spanish literature needs more study.

B) A second group of novels in which Charcot and the Salpêtrière played an important role is found in the past thirty years, in particular the feministic literature, e.g. Anna Furse. Recent authors who mention Charcot further include the American Siri Hustvedt (2003), and the Swedish Per Olov Enquist with a complete novel about Charcot, Blanche Wittman and Marie Curie (2004).

Charcot and the Salpêtrière school influenced literature in the past and still does.


Session XI
Saturday, 9 July 2005, 9.00 - 9.30 am

Tenth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and
Tenth Meeting of the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN)

St. Andrews, Scotland, 2005